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"1870 to 1914 - what's the difference?" Topic


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Pvt Snuffy30 Nov 2018 3:30 p.m. PST

I am new to WWI, and looking at pics on line and such it is amazing to see German and French uniforms that look just like 1870! It's almost like they planned to just refight the whole darn thing again.

What differences are there between the Franco-Prussian and WWI uniforms of 1914?

Also, the field artillery are a bit more lethal than 1870 and the heavy artillery and HMG is totally new; what are the tactical differences between the two periods?

I'm sure that 1915-18 saw lots of changes, but I get the feeling that 1914 is just 1870 with better weapons. Am I correct?

Thanks!

nnascati Supporting Member of TMP30 Nov 2018 3:53 p.m. PST

Germans were already in Fieldgrau by 1914. The French held on to the colorful uniforms until the were greeted by maxim machine guns.

rmaker30 Nov 2018 4:29 p.m. PST

No, you are not correct. The FIELD, as opposed to dress, uniforms are quite different. As nnascati noted, the Germans had moved to feldgrau. The French had simplified their uniforms, though the red trousers remained.

Tactically, both had adopted more open formations for infantry. French artillery tactics had been thoroughly updated. The Germans had the advantage of serious study of machine gun usage.

German infantry tactics stressed fire and movement with close cooperation of MG's and artillery.

French tactics totally abandoned the defensive mindset of 1870 for aggressive offensive movement, with the field artillery shoved right up into the front line. Infantry attack formations were still too dense, but less so than in the FPW, where attack columns reminiscent of 1809 remained in use, mostly to clear away the debris of failed enemy attacks.

willthepiper30 Nov 2018 4:41 p.m. PST

I've got a lovely book called "Vanished Armies" published by Osprey (I believe), featuring nothing but colour plates of pre- and early WWI uniforms sketched by one Haswell-Miller, a Scot. Naturally he favours the uniforms of Scottish units, but he also shows the uniforms of the rest of the British Army, plus France, Germany, and other European powers. In the illustrations you can see how uniforms evolved from 19th Century styles to meet the requirements of 20th Century warfare.

I'd say your idea that "1914 is 1870 with better weapons" is over-simplified. For example, while there was still a romantic idea of cavalry as l'arme blanche that could sweep the enemy from the field, the reality was that cavalry were by this time mounted infantry, and their role was now to move quickly to key areas of the battlefield then fight dismounted, and that the decisive cavalry charge was no longer a realistic tactic. Machine guns were now assigned to infantry battalions, and were no longer considered 'artillery' (although that would change again with the creation of Machine Gun Corps and the like as the development of LMGs would allow MMG to be reallocated).

There was of course far more evolution over the course of the Great War, but even in 1914 there were some clear changes since 1870.

foxweasel30 Nov 2018 5:29 p.m. PST

This is a bit like saying, is 1974 the same as 2018.

monk2002uk30 Nov 2018 11:31 p.m. PST

The following diagram may help to illustrate the huge differences between 1870 and 1914:

It illustrates three battles that involved roughly 60-80,000 men per at least one side. The black and white map covers British II Corps in the Battle of Mons. The inserts show Waterloo (Napoleonic) and Mars-la-Tour (Franco-Prussia War) battlefields on the same ground scale. There is a clear difference in distribution of the formations, which highlights how defensive and attack formations were more spread out in WW1.

Note that although the Mons Battle 1914 insert describes a German Army Corps as containing 40,000 men, only a proportion of each corps was actively engaged in attacking British II Corps.

Robert

Old Contemptibles01 Dec 2018 2:45 a.m. PST

Not even close to being the same.

Martin Rapier01 Dec 2018 3:52 a.m. PST

Although the troops are bit more spread out, and the rifled breechloaders are rather more lethal than their FPW counterparts, at an operational or grand tactical level they aren't actually that much different. The infantry expect to manouvre and assault, supported by artillery firing direct, while the cavalry scout or indulge in suicidal mounted charges. Which is why Fire and Fury, Volley and Bayonet and BBB produce perfect decent 1914 games.

At a more tactical level, clearly things are very different. Magazine fed rifles with smokeless propellant make the defence even more powerful than in 1870, as do quick firing rifled guns. So that the grand tactical approach of 1870 results in a far bigger butchers bill.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2018 9:21 a.m. PST

Martin, thanks for the nod to BBB, among other good games.

On occasions like this, I like to quote this excerpt from the intro to the BBB rulebook:

"Why is this period [the later 19th century] so interesting? To answer that, consider the Napoleonic era which precedes it. By 1815, after 25 years of continuous continental warfare, broadly the same weapons and tactics are common to all European armies (albeit some are better at using them than others). The ‘holy trinity' of protection, mobility, and firepower, as embodied by the three arms of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, is in perfect balance, making battle a kind of complex exercise of rock-scissors-paper between very similar forces.

But as the century wears on, disruptive technologies appear: breech-loading rifles in the 1840s, breechloading rifled artillery in the 1850s, machine-guns and repeating rifles in the 1860s. And not only weaponry, but also railroads, steamships, ironclads, the telegraph, observation balloons …

And while technology develops apace, most nations spend most of the time at peace. Consequently, each time a war breaks out, the protection-mobility-firepower equation has been modified, and each time, the armies engaged have to learn new lessons the hard way – in some cases, the wrong lessons, which then cost them dearly in their next conflict.

The bad news for the troops is that constant improvements in weaponry mean that maneuver under fire becomes more and more difficult, and battle gradually reduces to a contest between firepower and protection. This eventually reaches its apex in the static trench warfare of the First World War, with mobility squeezed out almost entirely.

But the good news for wargamers is that, for the few decades we are interested in, tactical maneuver persists. War continues to be decided not by long weeks or months of attrition across hundreds of miles, but by decisive clashes between whole armies lasting usually no more than a day or two. These are fought on battlefields just a few miles across, making it possible to capture an entire battle in one tabletop miniatures game.

Furthermore, the evolution of weapons and tactics means that many of these conflicts pit opponents of very different character against each other, making for some fascinating interactions at the tactical level."

Not a direct answer to the OP question, I know, but perhaps hints at how we get from Waterloo to Mons via Mars-la-Tour, per Robert's excellent map comparison of the battlefields.

Chris

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